Wednesday, July 20, 2011 | 1:32 p.m.
As a labor union leader, Councilman Steve Ross knows what union negotiations entail — and he’s urging Las Vegas firefighters to go back to the table and reach an agreement with the city for next year.
“We’re really not that far apart,” Ross said at Wednesday’s Las Vegas City Council meeting, where council members were told negotiations had stalled with a difference of about $3 million and that an outside arbitrator is being brought in to resolve the differences.
The city learned in early June that while other employees' collective bargaining groups have agreed to pay cuts for the upcoming year, the firefighters’ union, International Association of Fire Fighters, has balked about a proposed 3 percent rollback in salaries, amounting to $2.13 million. Firefighters have also balked on cutting their uniform allowance, a $900,000 budget item.
“I would love to see IAFF sit down again with our staff and get this worked out to the benefit of the people of the city. Not only for them, but for the benefit of the men and women who work for Fire and Rescue so they have some sort of stability going on for the next 12 months,” Ross said.
Dan Tarwater, the city’s human resources director, said negotiators for the city and the firefighters recently held a two-day mediation session with Lavonne Ritter, a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to try to break the impasse.
“At the end, we just didn’t feel like we were any closer together,” Tarwater said.
The next step is to go to fact-finding and then binding arbitration, he said.
“Dollar-wise, it looks huge on a piece of paper,” Ross said, referring to the approximate $3 million gap. “But we’re not that far apart. And I have to say this to every city employee: Thank you. Thank you for stepping up and recognizing that you’re part of the solution.”
A longtime labor union leader, Ross is now executive director of District Council 15 Labor Management Cooperative Committee, which represents the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America, the Southern Nevada Glazing Contractors and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 15.
“These are still difficult times we’re going through,” Ross said. He said there’s a reason the contract agreement is for only one year.
“The economy may change. The consolidated revenue tax may increase. We don’t know that. It could decrease as well. So we have to be prepared for that,” he said. “In light of the financial crisis, the entire world is spinning.”
Ross said the city staff, including City Manager Betsy Fretwell, has done a good job, but the majority of the effort to balance the budget has been on the backs of the employees.
"I would like to see the IAFF, Betsy, sit back down with your team and get this worked out so we can start focusing on other things," Ross said, getting a round of applause.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said she would like the IAFF to add to the concessions they made last year, "which were quite large."
"I think the city employees have been remarkable in standing with the council and with the leadership to help us get through this time frame," Goodman said. "It is not going to go on. The city is very healthy. The city has a wonderful team of employees and administrators and we are going to see a change going forward. But we need another year."
Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony asked what took place during the two-day mediation sessions in June.
Candace Falder, who directs the city's finance department, said that during the two-day session, the mediator met separately with the negotiating teams in separate rooms.
"I really did feel at times that we were making progress as we went along," Falder said. "Then on the last hour of the second day, it just ceased to be any movement at all."